· 2 min read · Features

From barista to BA: how apprenticeships are working for Starbucks


Starbucks has reversed an apprenticeship attrition rate of 70% to create a highly successful scheme

Some people may not think that an apprenticeship at a coffee shop is a meaningful career pathway. And it is true that in the retail space apprenticeships can be given less attention, and be seen as less valuable.

At Starbucks we are passionate about showcasing the true potential of apprenticeships and want to bust the myth that a vocational route is not as credible as pursuing higher education. Our apprenticeship programme has been running since 2012 and we now employ more than 1,000 apprentices.

Last year we received 6,000 applications for 250 places; 20% of that intake are now store managers, responsible for a team of around fifteen people and demonstrating a range of business and management skills.

Our apprenticeship programme has had a very positive impact on our retention rate, which is now at 80%. We’ve found if we can keep apprentices beyond the first three months of their tenure they stay for considerably longer than the average.

But it wasn’t always like that. When we first started the programme we found that our first cohort was nowhere close to being work ready. They joined, didn’t like what they saw, and left… quickly. Our attrition rate on the programme in the early days was 70%, so we realised that we needed to invest and learn in order to succeed.

On a day-to-day basis our apprentices receive support and guidance from their store manager, their shift buddy, their barista trainer and their own personal assessor coach. These multiple layers of guidance help to instil confidence and encourage our apprentices to reach their full potential. Whatever path they choose to pursue in life, they have acquired valuable skills on the job and built confidence, proving that apprenticeships can be a genuine alternative to academic study and a path to a career in retail.

We're so passionate about our apprenticeship programme that we are expanding and extending it to include higher education and degree-level apprenticeships at level four, five and six, and have pledged to deliver 1,000 new apprentice places over the next four years. This will enable our employees to undertake a full degree in management and leadership as they work with us, going from barista to bachelor of science, fully supported by the business.We’ll also be opening up our European HQ to apprentices, providing apprenticeship opportunities in HR, project management, accountancy, communications and digital.

The new extended apprenticeship programme is the first of its kind for Starbucks worldwide, and is now starting to benefit all our employees. We’re building content for apprentices that has applications right across the business; we're creating a suite of e-learning opportunities in Maths, English and languages, as well as in financial literacy. We'll also be implementing an internship programme in our head offices so that partners can experience other roles at the corporate level.

In order to encourage young people and widen their opportunities it is important that businesses continue to work harder on raising awareness about the careers available and the different pathways into work. Every organisation has a responsibility to help young people enhance their employability. Our ambition is to encourage our staff to have the confidence to be themselves at work and offer them every opportunity to succeed and progress in their career.

Carol Muldoon is vice president of partner resources for Starbucks EMEA